Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sicario: Day of the Soldado


★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Let's face it: many sequels are garbage. However, most of those garbage sequels are to films that were ok, at best, in the first place.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is probably the biggest drop in quality from original to sequel I've ever seen. It takes almost everything we enjoyed about the first film & destroys it. The film continues the stories of CIA Agent Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) & black operative Alejandro Gillick (played by Benicio del Toro). After a suicide bombing by Islamic terrorists kills 15 people in a Kansas City supermarket, the CIA adds Mexican drug cartels to the list of terrorist groups, as they are the ones who have transported the terrorists across the border. Graver, along with fellow CIA agents Steve Forsing (played by Jeffrey Donovan) & Cynthia Foards (played by Catherine Keener), along with Secretary of Defense James Riley (played by Matthew Modine), agree that the best plan of action is to pit the cartels against each other. Graver recruits Gillick for this, & starts with a false flag operation: kidnapping Isabela Reyes (played by Isabela Moner), the daughter of a major drug kingpin.

After Isabela is kidnapped, they head to Texas & stage a rescue with the DEA, & blame the kidnapping on one of the major drug cartels. However, on the way to Texas, they are ambushed by their Mexican police escort. In order to escape, they kill many of the policemen. During this, Isabela escapes, & Gillick chases after her.

In order to stop the tension between the U.S. & Mexico from getting worse, the CIA is ordered to abandon the mission & erase all proof of U.S. involvement, including executing Isabela. However, Gillick refuses to kill her. Graver must locate Gillick & Isabela, while Gillick must evade the CIA.

The cast is a mixed bag. Brolin & del Toro give good performances, & are the only good things in the film. Donovan, Keener & Modine are wasted. And Moner is absolutely terrible here.

Stefano Sollima's direction is awful. Sollima can't even perform 1% as good of a job as Denis Villeneuve did with Sicario. His execution of the story (or lack thereof) is mediocre at best, & a dumpster fire at worst, & is also incredibly bland. With Villeneuve directing the first film, it felt like an incredibly tense crime thriller that was only violent when it needed to be. With Sollima directing this, it's violent throughout, & just feels like violence for the sake of violence.

Taylor Sheridan's screenplay is a trainwreck. The plot is completely unnecessary. The dialogue is nowhere near where we all know it could be with Sheridan writing the script. And the characters are horrifically bad. Benicio del Toro's character is completely bastardized in this film. In Sicario, he was a fearsome black operative who was not afraid to massacre an entire family. Here, all of that is completely gone, as now he must save Isabela Moner's character "because she reminds him of his daughter," which is a tired trope if I ever saw one. And we haven't even mentioned the unabashed racism in this film. Almost every Mexican character in this film is incredibly stereotyped (violent, gang-affiliated, overly-tattooed, drug lords, etc.), every Muslim character is incredibly stereotyped (suicide bombers, extremists, etc), & the very few female characters are portrayed as cold & shallow. So with all these stereotypes, it's not hard to imagine that a white male wrote this. In Sheridan's eyes, only Mexicans can be drug lords, & only Muslims can be suicide-bombing extremist terrorists. I know that these stereotypes are not true, but it's an offensive portrayal to be demonstrating at this time in the world.

And Matthew Newman's editing is mediocre. It's a shame that the editing isn't good, as Newman's editing on the 2011 masterpiece Drive was terrific. Here, the pacing is terrible, as the film drags & drags. And the transitions & cuts feel incredibly bland.

This is a huge disappointment. It has some good performances, nothing else about this film works. But the most damning thing about this film is its unapologetic racism, playing on the white conservative/MAGA crowd's fears of people that don't look like them. I'm surprised Donald Trump & his cronies haven't seen this & praised it & started using it as propaganda for more travel bans for Muslim countries (& now Venezuela). By & far, this film is DEPLORABLE beyond belief.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Tuesday, July 3, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 122 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, & language.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Hearts Beat Loud


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

In these dark times that we suffer through today, we really need some feel-good, light-hearted films to pick us up.

Hearts Beat Loud is just that. It's a lovely, endearing & amazing dramedy. The film follows Frank Fisher (played by Nick Offerman), a middle-aged record store owner & former singer in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. His wife, who also sang with him, died in 2006 from being hit by a car while on her bike. His daughter, Sam (played by Kiersey Clemons), is on her way to UCLA to study medicine, & is in love with Rose (played by Sasha Lane). His mother, Marianne (played by Blythe Danner), is becoming more senile. And even though his landlord & friend, Leslie (played by Toni Collette), tries to keep the rent low, Frank finds it harder to keep the record shop going in its current shape in an era where people would rather be lazy & buy their songs digitally than buy them on vinyl & listen to music in the best quality. He gets by with frequent visits to the bar owned by his friend, Dave (played by Ted Danson), & the occasional jam session with Sam.

And the jam session is what annoys Sam one night when Frank suggests it. Reluctant at first because of her schoolwork, Sam agrees to take part in it. Sam does the vocals & keyboards, while Frank takes hold of the guitar. They play a song entitled Hearts Beat Loud & Frank records it, eventually putting it on Spotify under the artist name We're Not a Band.

The next morning, in line for coffee, Frank hears the song being played in the coffee shop through Spotify. Needless to say, he is overjoyed. Eventually, after he tells Sam, they start jamming more often. But Sam is about to go to UCLA, & Frank doesn't want to let go of her yet.

The cast is superb. Nick Offerman shows that he does have some dramatic acting power in him, & his performance here is as great as his performance as the handsome & patriotic man with the most gorgeous mustache ever, Ron Swanson on the sitcom Parks & Recreation. Kiersey Clemons shows such immense promise & delivers on it, proving that she will go far. And it's always great to see Ted Danson in anything these days.

Brett Haley's direction is excellent. Haley has a very steady hand on the material, & makes sure the film doesn't deviate from a very endearing & heartwarming tone.

The screenplay by Brett Haley & Marc Basch is amazing. The characters feel real & you actually care about them. And the dialogue feels incredibly human.

And the music is wonderful. Keegan DeWitt's ambient & synth-driven score gives a quirky & relaxed feeling to the film. And the songs sung by Kiersey Clemons & Nick Offerman are just so incredibly joyful to listen to.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's an incredibly sweet & heartwarming film, which is definitely what we need right now.

Hearts Beat Loud was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, June 29, 2018. It is currently in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: The Patriot Theater in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI; & the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 97 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for some drug references & brief language.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

American Animals


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

"Based on a true story." Those 5 words, together, are some of the most used words in film history. So many films have been based on true stories, & so many more to come will be based on true stories.

Except American Animals isn't based on a true story. It is a true story. It's flawed, but it's a very interesting true crime film. Set from 2003-2004, & interspersed with the real actual people, the film follows Spencer Reinhard (played by Barry Keoghan), an art student at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. Very nihilistic in nature, Spencer believes that something exciting needs to happen to him to make his life have meaning. His friend, Warren Lipka (played by Evan Peters), is also at Transylvania University on an athletic scholarship, but is blowing it off.

Spencer takes a tour through the school library, & sees the collection of rare books. Seeing this as an opportunity for something exciting to happen to him, Spencer decides to rob the book collection with Warren. Bewildered at first, Warren agrees to join him in the heist. During the planning, Warren flies to Amsterdam to meet with some Dutch buyers, led by Mr. Van Der Hoek (played by Udo Kier).

Realizing that the heist cannot be done with two people, Spencer & Warren recruit two other people for the heist: childhood friends Chas Allen (played by Blake Jenner) & Eric Borsuk (played by Jared Abrahamson). They discover that the only person keeping watch on the books is the special librarian, Betty Jean Gooch (played by Ann Dowd).

As the heist gets closer, they are very anxious & highly anticipating it. But this could be the very thing that tears all of them apart.

The cast is excellent. Keoghan is proving himself to be one of the best young actors working in film today. Peters builds off of the promise he showed on American Horror Story. And Jenner & Abrahamson do great work.

Bart Layton's direction is great. Although he does have some issues at times keeping everything on an even keel, for the most part, he does a great job, & shows a lot of potential. Also, I commend his decision to mix the real people with the actors.

And Bart Layton's screenplay is very good. Although the plot starts to falter in the less darkly comedic & less high-octane third act, the dialogue & characterization are both of high caliber.

This is a solid crime film. Although it is flawed, it is buoyed by a great cast & an interesting mix of real life & docufiction.

American Animals was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, June 22, 2018. It is currently in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the Quality 16 in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 116 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some drug use & brief crude/sexual material.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

For 33 years, Fred Rogers was an inspiration to children worldwide. Through his show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Rogers was able to touch the lives & hearts of children with his kind & humble personality.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? takes an in-depth look at the life, legacy & philosophy of Fred Rogers, & what comes of that is the best documentary of the year. The film follows Fred Rogers, a young man from Pittsburgh with so much ahead of him. Rogers was very devoted to his Christian faith, & joined the seminary, eventually becoming ordained.

However, Rogers was still disillusioned by one major piece of influence on the people of America: television. He despised it because it wasn't used to nurture & teach, ideals that Rogers felt were imperative ideals to be taught.

Using this frustration, Rogers left the seminary & went into television. Looking to avoid the reliance on advertising & merchandising that television had, he created Mister Rogers' Neighborhood at WQED in Pittsburgh in 1968. Rogers based his show on being his true self, treating kids the way they should be treated, understanding their fears, & teaching kids to love themselves & others.

He started & ended the show the same way: starting by changing into his trademark cardigan sweater & sneakers while singing Won't You Be My Neighbor?; & ending by singing It's Such a Good Feeling. During the show, he would talk earnestly & calmly about childhood interests & issues. Eventually, over the course of time, Rogers would cement himself as a cultural icon & a guiding voice for children worldwide.

Morgan Neville's direction is spellbinding. Through interviews with Fred Rogers' family, friends, & colleagues, along with simple animated segments & archival footage, Neville is able to stir many emotions in us, & bring us deeper into who Fred Rogers was & what he did for so many children.

This is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. It's an emotional, heartfelt, & overall amazing tribute to an amazing man, one like whom we had never seen before, & one like whom we may never see again for as long as humanity exists. Fred Rogers will be sorely missed. But he touched many lives, & inspired us to be more kind to everyone around us. And that will be his greatest achievement.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, June 22, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 94 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements & language.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Jurassic Park franchise has become progressively worse with every film that is released. The only good film in the franchise is Jurassic Park, which is a masterpiece. However, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (don't understand why it was titled like that) was mediocre; Jurassic Park III was bad; & Jurassic World was awful. It just feels like this franchise is now nothing more than a dumb cash grab.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, while not absolute cinematic torture, is very close to it. The fifth film in the franchise, & set three years after the events of Jurassic World, the film once again follows Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt), the former Velociraptor trainer at Jurassic World. He has been asked by the former operations manager at Jurassic World, Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), to help relocate the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar to a new island sanctuary, due to an imminent volcanic eruption on Isla Nublar. This plan has been set in motion by Dr. John Hammond's former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (played by James Cromwell), & his assistant, Eli Mills (played by Rafe Spall). However, this plan has been met with controversy, as Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) believes that the dinosaurs should be allowed to become extinct again in order to correct the mistake of cloning them in the first place.

Owen & Claire fly to Isla Nublar along with IT tech Franklin Webb (played by Justice Smith), former Marine Zia Rodriguez (played by Daniella Pineda), & a mercenary team led by Ken Wheatley (played by Ted Levine). Back in California, behind Lockwood's back, Mills & auctioneer Gunnar Eversol (played by Toby Jones) plan something diabolical with the dinosaurs. It's up to Owen & Claire to save the dinosaurs from extinction & Mills & Eversol's diabolical plans.

The cast is a mixed bag. Pratt & Howard do relatively solid work. Goldblum, Jones, & Cromwell are almost completely wasted. But Smith gives a terrible performance, & Spall isn't that much better.

J.A. Bayona's direction is terrible. It's a shame becuase Bayona has proven himself to be a great director. But Bayona can't keep a solid hand when it comes to the tone or what the characters are supposed to do. And there's no sense of wonder to the film at all. Then again, none of these films have had any sort of wonder since the first film.

The screenplay by Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly is a disaster. My complete disdain for Trevorrow has been widely noted. And this film shows that he, in any position for a film, whether it be directing, writing, or producing, should never be allowed anywhere near a film set for the rest of his life. And Connolly has only co-wrote one good film, & that's it. They have devised a screenplay where the plot is tedious, the characters are nothing more than one-dimensional stereotypes, & the dialogue is half-baked. Furthermore, there is a plot twist in the film that is one of the worst I've seen, counting 2 films in a row that Colin Trevorrow has been involved in (the other being 2017's The Book of Henry) where there has been an absolutely terrible plot twist.

Bernat Vilaplana's editing is awful. The editing is plagued by the same problem that plagues the editing of so many recent action films: TOO MANY CUTS. Would it hurt to actually have a shot last for more than 1 second? This can be done right (see any film by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson), but those are done in moderation, not for the entire film. Also, the pacing is dreadful, & makes this even more of a barbaric film experience.

Michael Giacchino's score is one of only a couple things I liked about this film at all. His brash orchestral style is at full play here, & it plays wonderfully, even if the score did deserve a better film.

And the visual effects are nothing short of horrifically bad. How is it that the visual effects from Jurassic Park, which came out 25 YEARS AGO, look better than the visual effects here? They should have improved, not regressed. The CGI is awful, & looks like it was merely a bad pasting from Adobe Photoshop.

This is a very bad film. Although there were a couple moderately good things about the film that kept me from giving it a ½★, nothing else about this film was good. This is a huge disappointment, considering the people that are involved, but it's not a big surprise, either.

Also, the park is gone.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Thursday, June 21, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 128 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence & peril.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Gotti


½★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Some films have nothing of value to them. These films may have bad performances, bland or uncontrolled direction, a cliched or overwritten screenplay, & no visual style whatsoever.

Gotti fits all of those qualities to a T, & is certainly the worst film of the year so far. The film follows John Gotti (played by John Travolta), the infamous boss of the Gambino crime family in New York from 1986-2002. Gotti quickly became a rising star in the family, & was taken under the wing of Neil Dellacroce (played by Stacy Keach). After his hit on boss Paul Castellano (played by Donald John Volpenhein) in 1986, Gotti became the new boss.

On the personal side of things, Gotti was married to Victoria (played by Kelly Preston), & had 5 kids: Victoria (played by Ashley Drew Fisher); John Jr. (played by Spencer Rocco Lofranco); Frank (played by Nico Bustamante); Peter (played by Carter Anderson); & Angel (played by Jordan Trovillion). John Jr. eventually became a member of the Gambino crime family, even though Victoria wanted him to not be part of that life.

After Gotti became boss, he became known as "The Teflon Don," as any of the charges brought against him failed to stick (due to witness & jury intimidation, along with tampering of evidence). But charges brought against him in 1992, along with his eventual diagnosis of cancer, brought the man down, taking the Mafia with him.

The cast is horrific. John Travolta gives no other expression during the movie except the expression one makes while on the toilet, & he upstages the other actors way too much. Spencer Rocco Lofranco can't act even to save his own life, as evidenced by his whiny presence. And Kelly Preston, John Travolta's real-life wife, has no chemistry with Travolta in the film, & comes off as a stereotypical mob wife that you'd see on VH1. She should not be allowed to act ever again because of this terrible performance in a career full of terrible performances.

Kevin Connolly's direction is terrible. Yes, E from Entourage directed this movie. And if that doesn't give you multiple red flags, then I don't know what will. He has no control of the film whatsoever, as his direction feels incredibly bland & plays off of too many mob film tropes.

The screenplay by Lem Dobbs & Leo Rossi is awful. The plot is way too cliched, the characters are thinly written, & the dialogue is just horrendous.

Michael Barrett's cinematography is mediocre. The color palette is way too gray & ugly, & the camerawork feels like it belongs in a Lifetime movie.

Jim Flynn's editing is very uneven. The pacing is unbearably slow, & at many times during the film, it feels like entire scenes that are very important to the plot have been taken out, leaving several plotholes.

The makeup & hairstyling is poorly made. For the earlier moments in Gotti's life, John Travolta's makeup looks very distracting & almost pasted on. And for the later moments in Gotti's life, John Travolta's makeup is also very distracting & makes him look like a discount Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War.

And the soundtrack is garbage. Pitbull (yes, PITBULL) & Jorge G√≥mez did the score for the film, & it's way too overdramatic. Pitbull also wrote some songs for the film that are not good at all. And the rest of the soundtrack suffers from what I call "The Suicide Squad Problem": the songs may be good or better by themselves, but in the context of the film, they don't fit.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the film since its release. For a while after the film came out, there was a large discrepancy between the critics score (0%) & the audience score (at one time, 80%) on Rotten Tomatoes. The Gotti marketing team attacked the critics, calling them "trolls behind keyboards." Further controversy followed when the high audience score on Rotten Tomatoes was calculated from over 7,000 audience ratings, which is very fishy when you consider that Incredibles 2 (which came out the same weekend) had made 150 times as much money as Gotti did in the same weekend, but had almost the same number of audience ratings. It was even more fishy when it was discovered that many of the accounts that highly rated the film were created on or just before the weekend of Gotti's release, & the majority of those have only given a rating to Gotti (the majority of accounts that gave more than one review gave only two reviews, the other film being American Animals, which was co-distributed by MoviePass Ventures, who also co-distributed Gotti). The marketing team still vehemently denies the allegations.

This is not just the worst film of the year, but one of the worst films ever made. Nothing about this film is redeeming or well-done. Just stick to watching either The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, Casino, or The Departed for the 50th time, or rewatching all episodes of The Sopranos again. Those options are much better than watching this. As Johnny Depp said in Donnie Brasco, you can fuhgeddaboutit.

Gotti was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Thursday, June 21, 2018. It is currently in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI. Its runtime is 112 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence & pervasive language.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Seagull


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Anton Chekhov's 1895 play The Seagull has long been considered to be one of the greatest achievements in modern theater.

The Seagull, the most recent film adaptation of the play, isn't one of the greatest achievements in modern cinema, but it's a solid adaptation. Based on the 1895 play The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, & set in early 20th-century Russia, the film follows Irina Arkadina (played by Annette Bening), a well-renowned theater actress. For the summers, she travels to the estate of her brother, Pjotr Sorin (played by Brian Dennehy), also bringing along her son, Konstantin (played by Billy Howle). This time, she also brings her lover, novelist Boris Tregorin (played by Corey Stoll). Also at the estate are Dr. Dorn (played by Jon Tenney); schoolteacher Mikhail (played by Michael Zegen); property manager Shamrayev (played by Glenn Fleshler); his wife, Polina (played by Mare Winningham); & their daughter, Masha (played by Elisabeth Moss).

Nina Zarechnaya (played by Saoirse Ronan), a young actress from a nearby estate, is in a relationship with Konstantin, but turns her attention to Boris, who is with Irina, who once dated Dr. Dorn, who receives attraction from Polina, who is married to Shamrayev, who is the father of Masha, who receives attraction from Mikhail, but is attracted to Konstantin. Eventually, this web of attraction will be sorted out, but not without much consternation.

The cast is fantastic. Every performance is great, but the standouts are Bening, Ronan & Moss. Bening gives one of her best performances, as she ages like fine wine in both life & in her work. She continues to get better & better as she gets older, & her sheer tenacity is on full display here. Ronan is the best actress of her generation, & she further cements that status here. And Moss, even with not as much screen time as the aforementioned actresses, manages to cast an indelible mark with her performance.

Michael Mayer's direction is great. Although there are a few rough tonal shifts, Mayer overcomes these flaws with a steady hand, always sure to have the film be compelling.

Stephen Karam's screenplay is very good. Although a few parts feel a bit rushed together due to the removal of some aspects from the play due to the runtime, the characters & dialogue are always very intriguing.

Matthew J. Lloyd's cinematography is amazing. With a mix of wide shots & intimate close-ups, Lloyd manages to fully capture the emotions of the characters through the visuals.

Ann Roth's costume design is phenomenal. The costumes are very period-accurate, elegant, & perfectly reflect the social standing of the characters.

And Jane Musky's production design is excellent. The sets are so visually stimulating, elegant, & period-accurate.

This is a solid adaptation of Chekhov's play. Although there are a few moderate flaws, the performances & period elements are enough to back the film up & keep it going strong.

The Seagull was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills, MI on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. It is currently in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 98 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for some mature thematic elements, a scene of violence, drug use, & partial nudity.